SPIKE Lee drew rave reviews Tuesday for his new movie “BlacKkKlansman”, a searing indictment of the white nationalist roots of the Trump era which premiered at Cannes to a lengthy standing ovation.
Lee, 61, tells the flabbergasting true story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American on the Colorado Springs police force who managed to infiltrate the highest levels of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s.
The cop, played by John David Washington, son of two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington, conducts much of the investigation on the phone and enlists the help of a white Jewish officer (Adam Driver) when it is time to meet the Klansmen face-to-face.
Lee takes aim at white supremacy, racist police violence, cross burning, intimidation and marginalisation in a movie that maintains a farcical tone through long stretches given the almost unbelievable premise.
However the final scene splices in chilling footage of last August’s white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia in which a counter-demonstrator, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed and several others injured. Trump is later seen on camera blaming people on “both sides” for the bloodshed.
In the film, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) leads “America First” chants and even dreams of putting a white supremacist in the White House one day.
Lee dedicates the film to Heyer’s memory — “Rest in power” — and will release the film in cinemas on the first anniversary of the Charlottesville protests.
Early reviews were overwhelmingly positive, saying that what Lee’s film lacks in subtlety it makes up for with righteous fury and a fitting sense of the absurd.
“Lee’s latest is as much a compelling black empowerment story as it is an electrifying commentary on the problems of African-American representation across more than a century of cinema,” Variety said.
Influential movie website IndieWire said the movie “packages such weighty and ultra-relevant subjects into the form of a wildly uneven but consistently entertaining night at the movies”.
The Hollywood Reporter called the film “credulity-straining” but said it packs a punch nevertheless.
“Lee crosses the line between seriousness and near-slapstick countless times as he sinks his teeth into this ripe opportunity to chew on and spit out the KKK and all it stands for once and for all,” he said.
The Guardian gave it three out of five stars saying the movie “responds fiercely, contemptuously to the crassness at the heart of the Trump regime and gleefully pays it back in its own coin”.
“BlacKkKlansman” marks Lee’s first outing at Cannes since 1991’s “Jungle Fever”.
He wore a black beret to the premiere attended by stars including veteran actress Jane Fonda, supermodel Naomi Campbell and Cannes jury president Cate Blanchett.
As he basked in a six-minute-long standing ovation, Lee flashed the “Love” and “Hate” knuckle-dusters worn by Radio Raheem in his 1989 hit “Do the Right Thing” at the cameras.